Members and supporters of the “Black Friday 14” rallied ahead of a BART board of directors meeting this morning to demand that the board urge prosecutors to drop criminal charges against the group of activists who shut down BART service by chaining themselves to trains in West Oakland last year.
The protesters were charged with trespassing on railroad property, a misdemeanor, for the protest on the morning of Nov. 28, 2014, that shut down BART service between Oakland and San Francisco for over an hour.
The demonstrators sought to draw attention to police killings of black men, part of a wave of protests that swept the nation in the wake of several killings, including in New York and Missouri.
“We’re here because Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley has unfairly targeted these freedom fighters with criminal prosecution and we’re not having it,” organizer NTanya Lee said this morning.
About 100 supporters gathered outside the BART board meeting near Oakland’s Lake Merritt. Brass band music filled the streets surrounding the Kaiser Center before a program of speeches, chants and songs. After the rally, they crowded into the board meeting.
Protesters previously overwhelmed a BART meeting in January, asking the board to withdraw any requests for monetary restitution for the service disruptions. The board relented the following month, voting 5-4 to ask the district attorney’s office not to seek restitution.
But now protesters are asking BART board members to ask that criminal charges be dropped.
“We’ll keep coming back until the charges are dropped for the Black Friday 14,” Lee said.
David Turner III, a student organizer at University of California at Berkeley, drew connections between the actions of the Black Friday 14 and the protests of the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
“We should remind folks in the board meeting — what would you have done in the 1950s with Rosa Parks? What would you have done in Birmingham?” he said. “They’re standing on the wrong side of history.”
After the rally, dozens of supporters and members of the Black Friday 14 themselves signed up for public comment at the board meeting, speaking for hours to urge the board to withdraw any support for criminal prosecution of the protesters.
One of the women charged in the case, Mollie Costello, said that while the protest was not legal, it was just.
“Blacks having to give up their seat on the bus, that was legal but it was not just,” she said. “We had to do something illegal to get everyone’s attention.”
The protest that day also included dozens of other activists who stood on the platform while the 14 protesters, chained arm-to-arm, locked themselves to two trains at the West Oakland Station. Others gathered outside the station, chanting, dancing and praying.
The protesters are next scheduled to appear in court on Dec. 10.
Scott Morris, Bay City News